Saturday, August 11, 2007

The skeleton as an endocrine organ


Bones are typically thought of as calcified, inert structures, but researchers at Columbia University Medical Center have now identified a surprising and critically important novel function of the skeleton. They’ve shown for the first time that the skeleton is an endocrine organ that helps control our sugar metabolism and weight and, as such, is a major determinant of the development of type 2 diabetes.

The researchers found that osteocalcin, a protein made only by bone-forming cells (osteoblasts), was not a mere structural protein, but rather a hormone with totally unanticipated and crucial functions. Osteocalcin directs the pancreas’ beta cells, which produce the body’s supply of insulin, to produce more insulin. At the same time, osteocalcin directs fat cells to release a hormone called adiponectin, which improves insulin sensitivity. This discovery showed for the first time that one hormone has a synergistic function in regulating insulin secretion and insulin sensitivity, and that this coordinating signal comes from the skeleton. Additionally, osteocalcin enhances the production of insulin-producing beta cells, which is considered one of the best, but currently unattainable, strategies to treat diabetes.

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